I’ve been blogging, over the past day or so, in response to various questions about the Holy Spirit that I’ve been asked to discuss with a small group from my church.
Here I want to put it all together in some kind of order.
We should feel a little nervous about discussing the person and work of the Holy Spirit. We should, no doubt, focus less on analysis and more on obedience:-
Gal 5:25 Let us keep in step with the Spirit.
Eph 4:30 Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God.
Eph 5:18 Be filled with the Spirit.
Eph 6:18 Pray in the Spirit.
1 Thess 5:19 Do not put out the Spirit’s fire.
1. Why do we talk so little about the Holy Spirit, compared to God the Father and Jesus?
(a) Because we have reacted to the preoccupation of some with the extraordinary ministries of the Spirit. We are sensitive – perhaps over-sensitive – to the dangers of fanaticism. We need to ask yourselves, however, whether fanaticism is the greatest danger facing the church today. Are we not too comfortable and complacent, and does not the Holy Spirit challenge this?
(b) Because he is a ‘shy sovereign’. His role is not to testify about himself, but about Jesus, Jn 15:26. We might almost say of the doctrine of the Holy Spirit what someone once said of the doctrine of the Trinity: it is not so much heard in Scripture, as overheard.
2. What examples are there of the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament?
The ‘Holy Spirit’ is named as such only three times in the Old Testament: Psa 51:11; Isa 63:11, 12. The concept of ‘progressive revelation’ reminds us that the doctrine of the Holy Spirit, like a number of other doctrines, is present in the Old Testament only in embryonic form.
If the Christian era is identified as ‘the ministry of the Spirit’ (2 Cor 3:8) then it is to be expected that the New Testament will convey a clearer and fuller revelation of the person and work of the Spirit.
Nevertheless, his activity is apparent in the Old Testament in a number of important ways:-
1. Creation, Gen 1:2; Psa 33:6.
2. Revelation, Isa 61:1-6; Mic 3:8.
3. Enabling for service: craft, Ex 31:2-6; leadership, Judg 6:34; strength, Judg 15:14f; Isa 11:2.
4. Inward renewal, Psa 51:10-12; Eze 36:25-27.
5. Future outpouring, Joel 2:28f.
3. Who is the Holy Spirit?
(a) His personality:-
This becomes clear in the NT, as in Jesus’ promise of ‘another Counsellor’, Jn 14:16, and the fact that the Spirit:-
1. Speaks, Acts 1:16; 8:29; 10:19; 11:12; 13:2; 28:25.
2. Teaches, Jn 14:26.
3. Witnesses, Jn 15:26.
4. Searches, 1 Cor 2:11.
5. Determines, 1 Cor 12:11.
6. Intercedes, Rom 8:26f.
7. Is lied to, Acts 5:3.
8. Can be grieved, Eph 4:30.
9. Can be insulted, Heb 10:29.
10. Is referred to as ‘he’, Jn 16:13.
(b) His divinity:-
1. Lying to the Spirit is lying to God, Acts 5:3f.
2. Linked with the Father and Son in benedictions, 2 Cor 13:14; Rev 1:4-6; and in the baptism formula, Mt 28:19.
3. Called ‘the seven spirits’, Rev 1:4; 3:1; 4:5; 5:6, partly because seven is a number of divine perfection and partly because the Spirit ministers in his fullness.
4. Called the Spirit of the living God, 2 Cor 3:3; 1 Pet 4:14.
5. Sovereignty is ascribed to him, 1 Cor 12:11.
6. Has divine attributes such as omnipresence, Psa 139:7ff; 1 Cor 12:13; omniscience, 1 Cor 2:10; omnipotence, Lk 1:35; Rom 8:11; 15:19.
7. OT refs to God are in the NT shown to be refs to the Holy Spirit, Ex 17:7 w Heb 3:7-9; Isa 6:3,8-10 w Acts 28:25-27; Psa 78:17,21 w Acts 7:51.
4. What does the Holy Spirit do?
(a) His work is often represented by symbols:-
1. Fire, Lk 3:16; Acts 2:3; 1 Thess 5:19. Warms, energises, purifies, illuminates, consumes, spreads.
2. Wind, Jn 3:8; Acts 2:2. Empowers, refreshes, independent, invisible.
3. Oil, Lk 4:18. Consecrates, comforts, heals.
4. Water, Jn 7:38. Cleansing, reviving, satisfying, fertilising, freeness, abundance.
(b) In the New Testament generally the Holy Spirit is active in:-
1. the definitive revelation of Christ to and through the New Testament writers.
2. the illumination of human hearts to receive and respond to this Revelation.
3. the new birth, whereby we are enabled to trust Christ, and to become members of his body.
4. the witnessing to the fact that we are Christ’s forever.
5. the sanctifying transformation of us into Jesuslikeness of character.
6. the fitting and equipping of the saints for service.
(J.I. Packer, Keep in Step With the Spirit)
(c) In relation to Jesus, the Holy Spirit is involved in:-
1. Conception, Mt 1:18,20; Lk 1:35
2. Public ministry, Mt 4:1; Mar 1:12; Lk 3:22; 4:1; Jn 1:32; 3:34; Acts 10:38
3. Life and work, Lk 4:1,14
4. Atoning death, Heb 9:14
5. Resurrection, Acts 2:24; Rom 1:4; 8:11; Heb 13:20; 1 Pet 3:18
6. Apostolic ministry, Acts 1:4; 2:4
7. Scripture, 1 Cor 2:13; 2 Pet 1:21
8. Christian age, 2 Cor 3:8
(d) In relation to Holy Scripture:-
1. All the books of the Bible owe their origin to him, Mt 22:43f; Heb 3:7; Acts 28:25.
2. The writers were ‘borne along’ by the Spirit’s influence, 2 Pet 1:21.
3. The Holy Spirit alone gives conviction of the truth of the Bible’s message, 1 Thess 1:5; causing it to be recognised as the word of God, 1 Thess 2:13; causing its promises to be confirmed experientially, 1 Thess 1:6ff; Psa 34:4,6,8; and causing its truth to change the individual’s life for the good, 1 Thess 1:9f; 2:14; Psa 119:9,11.
(e) In relation to the Christian life:-
‘Whatever individual Christians have, are, and enjoy, in contradistinction to the worldly and unconverted, they owe to the agency of God the Holy Ghost.’ (Ryle, Old Paths, 268)
1. he gives us new birth when we believe in Jesus
2. he brings to maturity in us Christlike graces such as love, faith and hope
3. he gives us a role within the body of Christ and equips us for ministry.
4. he enables us to understand and believe the Scriptures, which testify to Christ
5. he prays for us when we do not know how to pray, just as Jesus prayed for his disciples
6. he will give life to our mortal bodies at the last day, just as Jesus was raised victoriously from his grave.
(f) The distinguishing marks of his work:-
1. The Spirit of God in his work in men raises ‘their esteem of that Jesus who was born of the Virgin, and was crucified without the gates of Jerusalem’, confirming ‘their minds in the truth of what the gospel declares to us of his being the Son of God, and the Saviour of men.’
2. The Spirit of God ‘operates against the interests of Satan’s kingdom, which lies in encouraging and establishing sin, and cherishing men’s worldly lusts.’
3. The Spirit causes ‘in men a greater regard to the Holy Scriptures, and establishes them more in their truth and divinity…The devil never would attempt to beget in persons a regard to that divine word…The devil has ever shown a mortal spite and hatred towards that holy book the Bible.’
4. The Holy Spirit always works as the Spirit of truth, ‘he represents things as they truly are.’
5. The Spirit produces in men ‘a spirit of love to God and man.’ He brings them to ‘high and exalting thoughts’ of God. He ‘works in them an admiring, delightful sense of the excellency of Jesus Christ’, and he constrains them to love others and earnestly to seek their salvation.
Edwards, Works, II, 266ff, as summarised by Murray, The necessary ingredients of a Biblical revival II, 26.
5. What does it mean to be filled with the Holy Spirit? When does it happen?
It is both a free gift, 1 Thess 4:8, and a solemn responsibility, Eph 5:18. There are certain attitudes which open the way to the blessing of the Spirit. We are to ask, Lk 11:13, to thirst and drink, Jn 7:37, to repent, Acts 2:38, to obey, Acts 5:32, to have faith, Jn 7:39; Gal 3:1-5,14. On the other hand, certain negative attitudes can oppose the work of the Spirit. He can be lied to, Acts 5:3, resisted, Acts 7:51, grieved, Eph 4:30, and quenched, 1 Thess 5:19. ‘It is a great mystery that the creature should be able to assert his petty will against that of the Creator, to turn away from the Spirit’s leadings, and in some sense nullify the Divine. Yet the Scripture assures us that this is indeed the case.’ (Leon Morris, Spirit of the Living God, 97)
Constitutes a significant step, or series of steps, of growth in the Christian life, together with a deeper fellowship with God, a greater effectiveness in prayer and Bible reading, a new joy in worship, and a new empowering for ministry.
Cannot be tested exclusively or even principally by emotional excitement or physical effects.
Is linked to a deepening of fellowship with the Lord.
Should not be allowed to overshadow the decisive spiritual change that takes place at regeneration.
Is not a once-for-all experience. Indeed, the whole of the believer’s experience in this life is but the ‘first-fruits’, Rom 8:23; the ‘down-payment’, 2 Cor 1:22; 5:5; Eph 1:14, of what lies ahead. ‘This is profoundly important. It means that in the gift of the Spirit the believer receives something of the powers and the life of the world to come. His life in the Spirit is literally “out of this world”. It is a preview, a foretaste of the blessedness set before us.’ (Leon Morris, Spirit of the Living God, 96)
Admits of various degrees.
May include the use of new spiritual gifts, or increased effectiveness in the use of old gifts. Does not always result in speaking in tongues.
It is not a ‘quick fix’. Does not offer an easy short cut to holiness. The Christian life continues to be a battle against indwelling sin.
6. Are all the gifts of the Holy Spirit described in the Bible still as relevant today?
The New Testament has various lists of ‘charismata’ (spiritual gifts):-
1 Cor. 12:8-10
1 Cor. 12:28-30
1 Peter 4:9-11
|Prophecy||Word of Wisdom||Apostleship||Apostleship||Speaking|
|Serving||Word of Knowledge||Prophecy||Prophecy||Serving|
|Showing Mercy||Discerning of Spirits||Administrating|
|Interpretation of Tongues||Interpretation of Tongues|
Nelson’s complete book of Bible maps & charts : Old and New Testaments. (Rev. and updated ed.). Nashville, Tenn.: Thomas Nelson.
These lists are so varied that we may well suppose that none of them is exhaustive.
(a) Arguments against the continuance of miraculous gifts
Those who hold the view that miraculous gifts were limited to the apostolic age draw attention to the pattern that is established in Heb 2:3-4. First, the word of the gospel preached by Christ; which is then confirmed to believers as a result of the apostolic ministry; which itself was attested by apostolic miracles and by the distribution of spiritual gifts by the apostles.
‘With the writing of the New Testament, and its availability to believers, God’s revelation was closed. Three of the original gifts of the Spirit, namely the revelatory gifts of tongues, prophecy and charismatic knowledge, have now fulfilled their purpose. With the appearance of the New Testament they have, in accordance with 1 Cor 13:8, been removed from the list of early Christian charisms and have ceased to be.’ (Q in Grossmann, Stewards of God’s Grace, 14)
The gifts ‘are seen to be in operation up to the end of Acts, but not afterward, for while, for example, the gift of healing is found throughout Acts, we have no trace of anything of the kind afterwards; on the contrary, Epaphroditus is spoken of as dangerously ill, Timothy is given medical advice, and Trophimus is left at Miletus sick. The same contrast is seen if we take the epistles of St Paul written before Acts 28 (1 & 2 Thess, 1 & 2 Cor, Gal, Rom) and compare them with those written during the Roman captivity. In the former, there are 25 references to the Jew, and only one in the latter, 22 references to tongues, and none in the latter, nine allusions to gifts as opposed to two; thirteen references to prophecy as a gift, with none in the latter.’ (Griffith Thomas, The Holy Spirit of God)
‘These gifts were not the possession of the primitive Christian as such; nor for that matter of the Apostolic Church of the Apostolic age for themselves; they were distinctively the authentication of the Apostles. They were part of the credentials of the Apostles as the authoritative agents of God in founding the church. Their function thus confined them to distinctively the Apostolic Church, and they necessarily passed away with it.’ (Warfield, Counterfeit Miracles, 6). It should be noted, however, that Warfield argues against latter-day miracles almost entirely in historical, rather than biblical grounds. And on those grounds, his evidence is rather compelling.
‘The Church in its infancy had no complete Bible (Old and New Testament). It had no extensive body of Christian literature, such as we have today. Christian hymnology, too, was still in its infancy. Numerically also, the Church was rather insignificant. It was, moreover, the object of scorn and derision from every side. In that situation God graciously provided special supports or endowments, until the time would arrive when these were no longer needed.’ (Hendriksen, commenting on 1 Thess 5:19)
Some regard the gift of tongues as one of the ‘sign-gifts’ (the others being prophecy, gifts of healings and workings of miracles). These, it is suggested, served a unique function during a time of great change in the church, when the Mosaic order was giving way to the age of the New Covenant, and the Gentile nations being opened up to the gospel.
(b) Arguments in favour of the continuance of miraculous gifts
1 Cor 13:10 (‘when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears‘) is a key text in the debate about the cessation of the charismata. Does is refer to (a) the completed Scriptures; or (b) the life to come? Or does it refer to neither?- is Paul simply appealing to a general principle, that the coming of the complete leads to the disappearance of the incomplete? The idea that it refers to the completed canon is Scripture appears forced and unnatural. The idea that it refers to the life to come is supported by v12, if that verse can be thought of as continuing and extending the thought of v10.
There is, in fact, ‘no exegetical warrant for claiming that any of the gifts have ceased. They are God’s characteristic endowments for Christian service in the New Testament age, arguably the most fundamental way ministry occurs (Acts 2:17-21; 1 Cor 1:7). Against the view that maintains, from the lack of the more supernatural gifts throughout much of church history, that these charisms were limited to the apostolic age, three points must be noted: (1) these gifts did not end at the close of the first century, but continued well into the third; (2) their subsequent diminution can best be attributed to a growing, unscriptural institutionalization of the church and an overreaction to the abuse of the gifts in heretical (most notably Montanist) circles; (3) even then, no era of church history was completely without examples of all the gifts.
The twentieth century resurgence of the gifts cannot be attributed to the arrival of the last days, since for the New Testament “the last days” refers to the entire church age. They may, however, reflect a recovery of more biblical, spontaneous, and all-inclusive worship and ministry.
In short, attempts to attribute all current charismatic phenomena to the devil or mere human fabrication are misguided. Still, there is no guarantee that any alleged manifestation of the Spirit is genuine; each must be tested. First Corinthians 14:39-40 concludes Paul’s treatment of the topic with remarkably clear commands, which, if obeyed, could go a long way toward eliminating divisiveness in the church over the gifts. On the one hand, none of the gifts should be forbidden, even tongues (v. 39). On the other hand, “everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way” (v. 40), as illustrated by the regulations for prophecy and tongues in verses 26-38. A growing number of charismatics and noncharismatics alike are beginning to heed these twin commands, but many still do not, to the detriment of the unity of the church and the success of her mission.’ (Blomberg, in Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology)
One plea of many who discountenance miraculous gifts today is that even if they were possible, they would be unimportant. ‘Miracles might occur today’, it is often conceded, ‘but only very rarely; they are not to be looked for or expected; they are of minimal importance; the whole subject of miracles does more harm than good.’ But over against this minimalist position, others have argued persuasively that the extraordinary gifts of the Holy Spirit are very much needed in our own time:-
[At the present time], the church would seem to need the benefits of spiritual gifts more than ever before. For at a time when Christians of all traditions realize deeply the imperfections of the church, Christ has given gifts ‘for the perfecting of the saints’ (Eph 4:12, AV). At a time when the continued existence of the Christian ministry is at stake, with panic, uncertainty and surrender on every hand, there are gifts ‘for the work of ministry’ (Eph 4:12). At a time when Christians are ashamed at their divisions but embarrassed by misdirected efforts to heal them, gifts are available ‘until we all attain to the unity of the faith’ (Eph 4:13). At a time when heresy and half-truth and doctrines of men bewilder Christians, God has given his gifts, ‘so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the cunning of men, by their craftiness in deceitful wiles. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ.’ (Eph 4:14f). (Bridge & Phypers, Spiritual gifts and the church, 30f.)
(c) Evaluating miraculous gifts
The Scriptures teach that as the Gospel Age progresses there will be an increase in counterfeit manifestations from false christs and false prophets, Mt 24:24; Mar 13:22; 2 Thess 2:9; Rev 13:13-14.
There is, therefore, a pressing need to evaluate spiritual gifts using scriptural criteria:-
1. Is Jesus attested as Lord? 1 Cor 12:3.
2. Is the church edified? 1 Cor 14:26.
3. Do they lead to peace, rather than to disorder? 1 Cor 14:32f.
4. Do they possess the character of witness to unbelievers? 1 Cor 14:24.
5. Are they exercised in love? 1 Cor 13:1.
6. Do they lead to God being glorified? 1 Pet 4:11.
(Based on Grossman, Stewards of God’s Grace, 90f)
7. Should everyone speak in tongues?
In earliest times, people spoke the same language. This unified language was used in rebellion against God in the building of the tower of Babel, Gen 11:1ff. God quelled this rebellion by confusing the people’s language and by scattering them over the face of the earth, Gen 11:9. In the future life, the unity of language will be restored in the praise and service of God, Rev 7:9-12; cf Zeph 3:9; 1 Cor 13:8. Some foretaste of this is found in the NT church in the miraculous gift of tongues at Pentecost, Acts 2:4,11. This was a remarkable sign of the universality of the gospel message. In the worship of the church, tongues plus interpretation also bears witness to the promise of the future eradication of language differences. In private prayer, a token is given in the gift of tongues of the final victory over the effects of the fall, which included a broken fellowship with God. (Based on Grudem, Systematic Theology, 1069ff)
Classic Pentecostal churches regard tongues-speaking as the unvarying accompaniment of the baptism in the Holy Spirit:- ‘If we only wish to perform the barest minimum essential for life everlasting, then once we have repented of our sins and accepted Jesus Christ as our personal Saviour, we may live and obtain life eternal. But how much more there is for the serious Christian! How much more rewarding is the life of commitment and service a dedicated child of God may participate in…For surely the unknown tongue is the initial, audible evidence of the infilling of the Holy Spirit.’ (Quoted in Hollenweger, The Pentecostals, 10)
More recent developments within that tradition – the Charismatic movement, Third Wave, etc., tend to have a reduced emphasis both on a two-stage description of the Christian life (accepting Christ and being baptised with the Holy Spirit) and on the expectation that all will speak in tongues.
The matter is determined by the clear teaching of Scripture. When Paul asks, in 1 Cor 12:30, ‘Do all speak in tongues?’, the clearly-implied answer is, ‘No.’ It is just as he has stated in 12:11 – the Holy Spirit ‘apportions to each one individually as he wills.’
Grossmann warns: ‘Where people regard glossolalia as a sign clearly indicative of Spirit baptism and so of a higher status in the kingdom of God, it is easy for an unhealthy anxiety to develop, producing a passion for this charism and attempts to bring about a “breakthrough” by the use of various exercises and forms of psychological conditioning. Frequently the result which follows is an ecstatic counterfeit experience, associated with crying, shuddering, shaking, falling down, clapping and shouting. Such phenomena can be a sign of demonic activity, but often they indicate mere human adjuncts resulting from an urge to be accepted, psychological instability, a breakthrough of repressed emotions or something of that sort…’ (S. Grossmann, Stewards of God’s Grace, 112)
8. Should we pray to the Holy Spirit? Or do we pray in the power of the Spirit, through Jesus to the Father?
The Bible does teach a certain order in the operations and activities of the members of the Trinity. For example, according to Jn 14:26, the Holy Spirit is sent by the Father in the name of the Son.
The usual norm is to address pray to the Father, as Jesus both practiced and taught.
Occasionally, it seems that the risen and exalted Christ was addressed in prayer, 2 Cor 12:8-10.
The Holy Spirit is never directly addressed in Scripture. He has no proper name. He points away from himself, to Jesus. We do not pray to him; he prays for us, Rom 8:26f.
Nevertheless, ‘prayer to the Spirit will be proper when what we seek from him is closer communion with Jesus and fuller Jesuslikeness in our lives.’ (Packer, Keep in Step with the Spirit, 261.
B.M. Palmer, in his great work on Theology of Prayer, puts it thus:-
‘Prayer may undoubtedly be offered to each of the Three Persons, for two substantial reasons: The first is, that however they may be discriminated, they cannot be separated one from the other. The three do not make one God, as by composition; they are the one God, through the indivisible essence or being which is the equal property of each. If, therefore, divine in the supreme sense, each Person may equally be the immediate object of address, though not the exclusion of the others…The second reason is, that in the functions which they discharge, each is supreme in his own work, and must stand in immediate relation to the creature who is to be saved…It would seem fit, therefore, that each may be immediately addressed in all that concerns his specific work. The natural mode of communication, however, would be to the Father, through the Son and by the Spirit; these prepositions simply indicating the co-ordination of the parties to the covenant, and of their several offices.’ (199f)
In fact, many of the classic hymns about the Holy Spirit are in fact addressed to him:-
‘Veni Creator Spiritus’ (‘Come, Holy Spirit’)
‘Come down, O Love Divine’
‘Spirit of wisdom, turn our eyes’
‘Holy Spirit, hear us’
‘O breath of God, breath on us now’
‘Holy Spirit, truth divine’
‘Spirit divine, attend our prayers’
‘Come, Holy Ghost, our hearts inspire.’
Come, Holy Spirit, come!
‘Breath on me, Breath of God’